“You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know babies taste the best”.
There’s nothing wrong with a B grade genre movie when it knows it’s a B grade genre movie, and embraces that it’s a B grade genre movie. Something like Lockout works so well because it never tries to be anything more prestigious or highbrow than what it is. But at the same time, B grade genre movies have a long tradition of tackling some pretty serious social issues as well. Movies like Starship Troopers and Robocop are great examples of not so subtle ways to have a message within the mayhem. In 2014, that mantle has been picked up Snowpiercer.
It’s 18 years in the future. After a chemical released into the atmosphere to combat global warming worked a little too well, what’s left of humanity now lives on a train. A train that is perpetually in motion, circumnavigating the frozen globe. In the front carriages are the haves, the first class passengers dining on steak and wine. In the back are the have nots, on the verge of a revolt lead by Chris Evans as Curtis.
Leading his band of dirty and dishevelled rebels from carriage to carriage, Curtis is first out for the blood of bureaucrat Mason (Tilda Swinton), but it’s not long before he realises the war he’s fighting might be a little more complicated than the oppressed rising up against the establishment. Along with John Hurt as his mentor Gilliam, Kang-ho Song as electronic lock picker junkie Namgoong, and Jamie Bell as hot headed young gun Edgar, Curtis starts at the bottom and only seems to be stomped down lower and lower.
In this post-GFC, post-occupy movement, post-Iraq, current Afghanistan war world, Snowpiercer has a lot to say about the current state of things, the struggle of 99% and the economic inequalities of 2014. And if you’re gonna have message, this is how to do it. When you wrap it up in action, excitement and Hollywood bombast, even the most on the nose message is a lot easier to swallow.
The other aspect Snowpiercer gets right is giving us a bad guy who you hate, but in a way, you can’t help understanding his motives. You may not agree with it, but you recognise that there’s some logic to it.
The claustrophobic train setting works in a couple of different ways to tell this story. Firstly, fight scenes in closed quarters are inherently more exciting. But secondly, the concept of each carriage being higher on the social ladder than the last, gives Snowpiercer plenty of excuses to indulge in some cool, stylistic production design that makes it one of the mist visually interesting movies I’ve seen in a long time.
Between this and Captain America: Winter Soldier, Chris Evans is having a great year. A big budget, comic book movie shouldn’t have the vibe of a 70s political thriller, but Captain America somehow pulled it off. A movie about a train that holds the entire population of the world in a post apocalyptic ice age shouldn’t be one of the best commentaries on the current state of the world’s injustices. But I’ll be buggered if Snowpiercer doesn’t pull that off too.